Thursday, August 17, 2006


Q. Which is correct: unrelated or nonrelated? I have encountered both.

A. Sometimes the meanings of non- and un- are quite distinct. For instance, a nonprofit organization is not supposed to turn a profit; if it does, it has a problem. On the other hand, a business that is unprofitable is supposed to reap profits, so it’s in trouble if it doesn’t.

Likewise, a nonscheduled airline operates without a regular schedule of flights; it runs charters on demand. But an unscheduled landing implies that there is a normal schedule that has been altered because of an emergency.

But this does not seem to apply to unrelated and nonrelated, which are treated as synonyms in sample documents, such as the Minnesota Code of Law:

“A guardian may be related or unrelated to the child. A child living with a nonrelated legal guardian shall be eligible for foster care…”

and the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Unrelated individuals. These are persons who are not living with any relatives. Such individuals may live alone, reside in a nonrelated family household, or live in group quarters with other unrelated individuals."

In practice, the words seem to be interchangeable.

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